Pre-elec­tion nooses for­got­ten in city scarred by racism his­tory

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY JAMES VARNEY

JACK­SON, MISS. | His­tory sur­rounds the Capi­tol build­ing in the heart of down­town here, but not all of it is wel­com­ing.

In the park be­hind the build­ing is a mas­sive gran­ite slab carved with the Con­fed­er­acy’s bat­tle flag em­blem and prais­ing the women — moth­ers, wives, daugh­ters and sis­ters — whose “zeal­ous faith in our cause” did so much in the Civil War.

On the morn­ing of Nov. 26, the park’s oak trees also had nooses, two men­ac­ing tal­is­mans bring­ing Mis­sis­sippi’s dark past to the fore­front a day be­fore the state was poised to vote in a runoff elec­tion for a U.S. Se­nate seat.

The nooses sparked head­lines from the U.S. to Ire­land to Ja­pan. Amer­i­can ca­ble tele­vi­sion news net­works in par­tic­u­lar sug­gested their place­ment was the lat­est racetinged move meant to af­fect black vot­ers.

Au­thor­i­ties vowed swift in­ves­ti­ga­tion to find the cul­prit.

“We are ac­tively look­ing into these acts of hate and in­tim­i­da­tion,” U.S. At­tor­ney Mike Hurst said at the time. “If we find ev­i­dence be­yond a rea­son­able doubt that a fed­eral crime has oc­curred, these crim­i­nals will be swiftly pros­e­cuted.”

Weeks later, how­ever, no one has been ar­rested, let alone pros­e­cuted, on charges in the in­ci­dent. Of­fi­cials with the Mis­sis­sippi Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion re­port noth­ing daily, a spokes­woman for Mr. Hurst’s of­fice seemed un­fa­mil­iar with the in­ci­dent and the FBI de­clined to com­ment.

Judg­ing by the hand­writ­ten signs scat­tered be­low the nooses, it’s pos­si­ble they were meant less as in­tim­i­da­tion and more as a ral­ly­ing cry — an in­dict­ment of Repub­li­can Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

Dur­ing a Nov. 2 ap­pear­ance with a small crowd in Tu­pelo, the se­na­tor ac­cepted a speak­ing en­gage­ment prof­fered by a sup­porter. If he “in­vited me to a pub­lic hang­ing, I would be in the front row,” she said.

That com­ment also earned na­tional head­lines — and may have been the im­pe­tus for the nooses.

“We’re hang­ing nooses to re­mind peo­ple that times haven’t changed,” read one of the signs with the nooses.

In a 2014 case in­volv­ing pub­lic nooses, drunken fra­ter­nity men at the Univer­sity of Mis­sis­sippi dis­graced them­selves and a cam­pus statue of James Mered­ith, the first black per­son to en­roll at Ole Miss, by putting a noose on it with the Ge­or­gia state flag, which then in­cluded the Con­fed­er­acy’s stars and bars.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials were re­lent­less. Three stu­dents were ar­rested, and one of them was given prison time in Septem­ber 2015 af­ter plead­ing guilty to a mis­de­meanor charge of “us­ing a threat of force to in­tim­i­date.” A sec­ond stu­dent pleaded guilty to a mis­de­meanor in March 2016.

The in­ci­dent last month, on the other hand, seems for­got­ten, and res­i­dents ex­pressed doubt that any­one would ever pay for it.

“That’s not go­ing to hap­pen here,” said Jackie Abron, 46, who works in se­cu­rity along Pres­i­dent Street on the park’s eastern edge. She said she saw the signs that morn­ing but not the nooses.

Ms. Abron, with two other black women around the park, said they weren’t afraid of the nooses. They scoffed at the stereo­type that such hate­ful dis­plays are typ­i­cal of Mis­sis­sippi.

But they were un­der­stand­ably upset that peo­ple would es­cape any penalty for the act.

“It’s kind of shock­ing, and it’s dis­heart­en­ing these things are still go­ing on,” said Francine Towns, 70, who works at the Mar­riott Ho­tel a cou­ple of blocks away from the Capi­tol. “If no one does any­thing about it, I have a prob­lem with that be­cause if noth­ing is be­ing done about it, then it must be ac­cept­able be­hav­ior.”

Ms. Towns said she would like the per­pe­tra­tors to be iden­ti­fied and pun­ished, although she is skep­ti­cal that will hap­pen.

“But I don’t think the God I serve has a white sec­tion and a black sec­tion in heaven, and I’m grate­ful for that,” she said.

It’s not clear whether in­ves­ti­ga­tors have de­vel­oped any leads. Although se­cu­rity cam­eras aren’t vis­i­ble in the trees, a se­cu­rity de­tail at the gover­nor’s en­trance be­hind the Capi­tol said the grounds are un­der video sur­veil­lance.

No group has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity, and some see the in­tent as a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence com­pared with other in­ci­dents.

“The story that ought to be is one that gives peo­ple pause about what Hy­deSmith said,” said Dou­glas Bris­tol, a his­tory pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of South­ern Mis­sis­sippi.

Mr. Bris­tol pointed out that the last le­gal pub­lic hang­ing in Mis­sis­sippi was in 1940, be­fore Ms. Hyde-Smith was born, and thus her ref­er­ence to one could hardly be con­strued to re­fer to some law­ful ex­e­cu­tion.

Ms. Hyde-Smith won her re-elec­tion bid — and Ms. Towns and Ms. Abron seemed cer­tain that the noose in­ves­ti­ga­tion is about as done as the elec­tion.

“They say they’re in­ves­ti­gat­ing this, but they’re not,” Ms. Abron said. “Things like this are like pot­holes: They tell us they’re fix­ing them, but we’re still driv­ing over them.”

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